Musandam or Bust!
Our alarms went off bright and early, and for once my SIM city 2000 theme blended in with a cacophony of ringtones that pulled our team into the already blazing sunny morning. We even got the opportunity to catch Sid on his way out of the house for work. He looked well ironed and dapper, and greeted us with a big smile. “Off to Oman today then?”
Right he was. The night before, as Scott and Claudia were bringing up her long lost and finally recovered baggage, we had explained to Sid the rental car swap that we had initiated yesterday and he most graciously offered to assist us in engineering an equitable termination of our deal with Stellar Rent a Car. They were none too eager to take the vehicle back, but in the end, we were able to pay them for about a day and a half of rental, and though some discussion of a petrol fee had occurred earlier during our iteration, none was ever levied.
But before we could head toward the wild desert, we had some exciting gifts to open. First was the Dawn Patrols. We opened the boxes and uncovered two pairs of very attractive spectacles. The new sunglasses had that spotlessly clean warm gleam one finds in showroom automobiles. There were two pairs, one in black, with silver lenses, the other in a kind of tortoise shell, with gold lenses.
We tried them both on, but it seemed obvious from early on that the black ones would best fit Scott and the brown ones me. I put the glasses on my face and admired the world around me, then admired myself in the mirror. These were going to be the perfect glasses for Prevlaunch. We also unfolded and inspected Claudia’s new Dahon.
She was a beautiful specimen, also gleaming and new, with a black matte finish, and black matte seat post and folding apparatus, and a set of tasteful beige-wall tires. They were not, however, our beloved Schwalbe big apples, the kevlar lined tires. As you, dear reader, already know, we had not suffered a single flat. “Are these kevlar lined?” I asked.
“So says the man who sold it to me at Providence Cycles.”
Fair enough. With Jackson and Claudia sporting brand new folding cycles, one might suspect Scott and I to look back toward our filthy and beaten up Speed TRs longing for new equipment. This is, however, decidedly not true. Instead, I looked back at my dear Speed TR and thought: just look at what one of these things can do. I reflected on all the places my cycle had been, all the different streets over which it had rolled, and the thousands of kilometers that we had put on them. And they were by no means on their last legs. It is a fine machine, the Dahon folding bicycle, and I was thrilled to see two fresh ones entering the world.
We loaded all the cycles into the only Toyota we had left,locked the car, and headed to an Indian restaurant across the street from the rental agency. The restaurant supplied us with a very large and inexpensive amount of curried mutton and roti, served with a giant platter of fresh onions, tomatoes, and lemon wedges.
Part way through the meal, our Malaysian friend from Stellar ran across the street to explain to me in Indonesian that our new Previa was parked illegally and I needed to feed the meter. I had no idea that we even needed to pay to park. Luckily all was well, and he even spotted me some change to feed the meter. A fine chap indeed.
Back at the restaurant, while we were picking at the last of the food, Jackson and Claudia headed around the corner to an electronics shop. The Previa had only a tape deck, which as any experienced road tripper knows is superior to all except the AUX-in jack, in terms of its ability to pipe audio straight from an iPod or laptop. All we needed was an 8th inch to cassette cable, of which they had a few in stock.
Without further ado, we headed out into the desert, scanning the road for signs, scrutinizing our maps. Then we were finally on the main road to Musandam, listening to a little of the old Podquiz. Spirits could not be higher, as we drove through the desert completely legally at 140-160 Km per hour, depending on the ever-changing speed limits. The sun was bright, but it was cool and quiet as we blasted along inside the Previa.
It was our dream, turned reality: listening to Nas’ Illmatic, arguing about bits of trivia, drinking Red Bull, and tearing through the beautiful desert at 90 miles per hour. AsiaWheeling strikes again.
Our first stop was in a rather industrial Emirate called Ras Al Khaima.
The capital city is situated on a river, and as such makes it an ideal hub for manufacturing and transporting materials around the UAE. One of the traditional focuses of Ras Al Khaima, I believe, is cement manufacturing.
We were interested in getting a drink, gasoline, and directions to the border of Oman. So we pulled off the main road and began cruising. The place was sun-drenched, industrial, and fascinating. We spotted a blended drinks shop along the side of another small road, and parked the Previa, heading through the blazing sun and into the cool shade of the interior of the shop. Inside we found a friendly and large staff, a small restaurant, and an astonishingly succulent 90 cent avocado smoothie with fresh crushed pistachios on top.
Jackson and I had the avocado, while Scott and Claudia chose some kind of pomegranate crème.
We drank our smoothies, across a broken concrete road from the shop and watched the ballet of shipping and industry performing before us. The smoothies went fast, and after we had tossed the Styrofoam cups, we headed out on foot in search of a rest room. We were not sure whether the laws for public urination involved chopping off hands or worse, so we headed into an HSBC branch office. Out of curiosity, we probed the staff there in hopes of acquiring literature on sharia-compliant mortgage loans, though were not able to walk away with anything substantial.
The women inside were very friendly, and though they did not know exactly how to get to Oman, they gave us some general clues. They were the first women in full Burka that I had ever interacted with and I could only see part of each woman’s face, but I must admit, I found both of them quite attractive… something like the allure of conversing with someone at masked ball.
We followed their directions, across a bridge to a gas station where I took great pleasure in filling up the entire tank for 11 USD.
When we got back on the road, we discovered it was only 10 or 15 kilometers to the border. It had become very dusty, and it was through a kind of dust fog that we made our way to the ocean, and with it, a small but well fortified Emirati customs station.
It was a strict, but very relaxed border experience. We were asked to park our car, then get out and wander over to a window with our passports. The officials spoke good English and were very polite. The politeness continued as well, even as they charged us each a hefty exit fee.
From there, we were flagged by a Emirati soldier onward into no man’s land, which we made short work of, arriving at Omani passport control a few minutes later. There too, we encountered polite workers, in flowing white robes, speaking great English, and charging us plenty of money. We paid in Emirati Dihrams, having not gotten our hands on any Omani Reils yet.
The dust began to clear as we drove on, along a beautiful, brand new, empty road. To our right there were great jagged, completely plant-less cliffs.
To our left was the deep, clear blue of the Straits of Hormuz.
We pulled over at a beach, and headed down to look more closely at the sea. It was gorgeous, and made all the more so by the polarized lenses on our brand new Dawn Patrols.
We climbed back in the Previa and drove a few more miles, until we noticed a fellow wheeler heading along the side of the road, and pulled over to give him our hearty support. We congratulated the chap, giving him a can of Red Bull to aid him on his journey.
Wheel safe brother, wherever you are.
And then we were in Khasab. Khasab is a small hamlet, but the largest in Musandam.
It was an import/export town, and if what we had read was correct, supported itself largely with the business of illegally transporting cigarettes and other taxable goods on super high-speed boats, across the straits of Hormuz to Iran. And sure enough, as we drove we saw quite a few boats with what looked like a redundant number of giant off-board motors.
We began investigating hotels, but quickly learned that they were all quite expensive.
So we tabled the mission of finding somewhere to sleep, and instead drove to the beach.
It was a gravelly beach, and following the precedent of the locals, we pulled the Previa onto the gravel and ran into some nearby caves to change into our bathing suits.
We quickly discovered that the thing to do here was to cliff jump.
So after swimming around a bit in the rocky beach area, we climbed up the rocks to the top of some nearby cliffs.
We spent the remainder of the sunlight jumping off the rocks, from ever higher outcroppings into the crystal clear blue water.
Ah, life was good.
We climbed back into the Previa after the sun had set and began searching for food. The place we ended up settling on was a kind of outside café. The owner was very opinionated about what we should order, so we let him have his way and soon out came some soups and salads and hummus, followed by roasted fish, and finally tea. It was all quite delicious, and we ate at the single wooden table, sitting in a pool of fluorescent light that poured out of the kitchen. As we leaned back, savoring the bits of flavor left in our mouths, it seemed once again that a more foolish man might think the deck was full of aces.
After the meal, we headed to a very down-to-earth Sheesha café, where we lounged around smoking water pipes, sitting on plastic chairs outside a crumbling cinder block structure, and drinking tea.
Meanwhile all around us, old men with beards in flowing white robes, discussed very serious sounding topics. Claudia was the only woman in the place, and she explained to us, was probably technically not even allowed inside. “These kinds of places are men only,” she explained, “but we’re just Gaijin smashing this one.”
“Gajin Smashing” is a term from the Japanese expatriate community, for when a foreigner is allowed to do something that is generally not allowed or frowned upon, simply because he or she is a foreigner. It’s an interesting notion, that of women being banned from this place. Were we being disrespectful in coming here, smashing our way in with a woman? Or we were doing some strange kind of God’s work? Speculation is welcomed in the comments.
When we were done with the hookahs, we paid the startlingly small bill, and drove around until we decided we had found the absolute cheapest hotel in town (still a pretty ritzy place), and after haggling over the price, the owners explained to us that it would be strictly against the rules for all four of us to stay in a room, and that we needed to get two rooms at least. This seemed crazy. One room already was nearly 70 dollars. So, in frustration, we decided to just leave and sleep in the car on the beach, in what we dubbed the “Hotel Previa.”
We brushed our teeth in the bathroom of the hotel and then departed crunching back onto the gravel of the beach, and pulled up next to the cliff wall that contained the caves in which we’d changed.
We unloaded the cycles from the back of the car and locked them to the rim of the Previa. We then leaned all the seats back, passed around the bottle of Klonapin, and, after doing a quick 20 minute round of trivia fell into a most delightful and peaceful slumber.
Meanwhile the moon and stars shone brightly, reflecting off the tranquil Straits of Hormuz, and the occasional cigarette-smuggling power boat skimmed off toward Iran.